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Time to End Counter-Insurgency In Afghanistan

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The counter-insurgency strategy in Afghanistan has failed, and it is time for President Obama to abandon it.

In the wake of the horrific incident where a US soldier killed 16 innocent Afghans, and just weeks after American Marines were caught on tape desecrating the body of a dead enemy, and a pile of Korans were burned, that much is clear. After these three incidents, Afghan President Hamid Karzai's core argument that NATO Forces aren't an occupier and only in the country for security has been undermined.

This means that not only is he losing the trust of his own people, but the Afghan people are increasingly seeing Americans as the enemy, not friends. There were violent protests in the aftermath of the Koran burnings, in which 30 people died, and American troops were met with hostility. Following the killing of Afghan innocents this weekend, it came as no surprise that the Taliban called for retribution. But, more noteworthy was the Afghan parliament passing a resolution condemning the "brutal and inhuman act." The only way Karzai can regain support is to stand up against Americans, which is what his people clearly want.

Without the support and trust of the Afghan people and their government, counter-insurgency has failed and is pointless to continue. Its entire purpose is to provide security for the population so services can be rendered by government and peace can be brokered with the opposition. This is something most right-wing pundits directly assault when they stand against apologizing for burning Korans, and defending the desecration of the dead. They don't understand our mission when they can support actions the incite violence against our military.

It is important to note that this is certainly not reflective of all of our men and women in uniform. 99.99 percent of them act honorably, and carry out their missions without doing anything wrong. So, this isn't a failure of our military. But it is, however, a failure of our strategy.

I opposed the surge of troops into Afghanistan when it was announced by President Obama in 2010. I said then, and I'll repeat it again, that counter-insurgency on a timeline is pointless. Gaining the support of a people and securing a country like Afghanistan could take decades, and it certainly doesn't squeeze into any timeline. The troops were only one part of a solution. But that never took into consideration Pakistani influence or how corruption in the Karzai administration would affect a negotiated peace with the Taliban.

Now, a rising US deficit and sinking public support for the war make the strategy untenable. Our military is neither meant nor able to win over and secure an entire country, especially on a decades-long commitment combined with budget cuts. And now, when just a few of our troops make errors, part of the strategy comes crashing down. The more time we spend putting our men and women in a stressful and protracted counter-insurgency operation, the more we'll see a few bad apples screw everything up.

VoteVets.org has always supported a counter-terror mission in the region. Counter-terror operations target the enemy where they are, and take them out. It's the strategy that led to the killing of Osama bin Laden and top al-Qaeda targets around the world. It costs less in money and lives. It doesn't deplete our troops and our military. And it doesn't put military men and women in the position of having to win over an entire country, under the real risk that a few bad troops could topple the entire house of cards. The past two months, body desecration, Quran burnings, and killings have now seriously put in jeopardy our ability to negotiate a counter-terror mission with the Afghan government, a mission we should have begun in 2010.

Some may say that counter-insurgency worked in Iraq, so it can work in Afghanistan. That isn't true. First, Iraq was a fairly modern nation, with an infrastructure, unlike Afghanistan. There wasn't nearly as much to build up. But secondly, and more importantly, it took the Sunni Awakening -- a revolt by the Sunni population against an insurgency -- to put Iraq on the path that ended with our redeployment. In short, Iraqis wanted it for themselves. There is absolutely no indication that Afghans are even close to that point. And we cannot know if they ever will be.

That all given, and given the increasingly antagonistic atmosphere being created in Afghanistan, it is time to employ a mission in Afghanistan that actually works, and leave a residual force in the region that focuses on destroying real threats to America. The sooner President Obama announces that, the better off our military and America will be.